Hospitals and Hollywood are belatedly discovering what the Psalms declared millennia ago — that “A joyful heart makes for good health.”
Medical studies show that “joyful laughter” strengthens one’s immune system, helps circulation and stimulates the body’s natural pain killers.
Recent years have seen a growing effort to make humor part of a patient’s medical treatment. Hospitals sponsor humor carts and humor rooms, which offer a variety of laugh-producing books and videos. Some physicians issue a “humor prescription,” urging patients to read or watch things tailored to their personality. The American Association for Therapeutic Humor gathers like-minded practitioners at an annual conference. And there is Patch Adams.
He is the iconoclastic physician-clown – real name Dr. Hunter Adams — portrayed by Robin Williams in the current hit movie.
Adams is founder of the Gesundheit Institute, a free clinic in West Virginia that makes humor a formal part of the healing process. He takes his clown costume to Russia for an annual visit to orphans and hospitalized children.
“Humor is an antidote to all ills,” he writes in “Gesundheit!” his 1993 autobiography. “I believe that fun is as important as love.”
On a wider basis, the clown care unit of the Big Apple Circus specializes in what it calls “clown doctoring,” sending 64 trained clown doctors into hospitals in New York City, Boston, Washington and several other American cities.
The clowns make an estimated 163,000 one-on-one bedside visits in units of pediatric wards, including intensive care, bone marrow transplant, burn treatment, pediatric AIDS and emergency rooms.
A red-nosed visitor blowing bubbles or performing a “chocolate milk transfusion” distracts the frightened children, bringing a rare smile to their face.
“When a child is beginning to laugh, it means he is probably beginning to feel better,” says Dr. John Driscoll, Jr., chairman of pediatrics at Babies & Children’s Hospital at Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center in Manhattan.